As much as the upcoming exhibitions against Peru and Brazil are about U.S. national team players “show[ing] us that they deserve to go to the Mexico clash” and “prov[ing] a point that you want to be at the Rose Bowl,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s mind already is made up about a couple of key defensive positions two days prior to the first friendly.
On Wednesday at American University, as the U.S. prepared for Friday’s game at RFK Stadium, Klinsmann declared to reporters that Brad Guzan remains the No. 1 goalkeeper despite the return of Tim Howard and that Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley are the preferred starters at outside back. The potential problem: Klinsmann has stressed the importance of continuity heading into the October Confederations Cup playoff against Mexico in Pasadena, California, and neither Johnson nor Beasley is in camp.
The anticipated competition for the starting goalkeeper's job has ended before it started. Klinsmann indicated Wednesday that Guzan, who played every minute of July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and won the tournament’s Golden Glove award, will start against Peru (Friday) and Brazil (Sept. 8) and then versus Mexico on Oct. 10. Howard, who’s returning to the national team after a 14-month sabbatical, will back up Guzan.
“Tim accepted that because he was gone for more than a year,” Klinsmann told reporters. Since Howard’s last appearance in a U.S. shirt, against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup’s round of 16, Guzan has started 12 times. The Americans are 7-2-3 in those games.
Despite the fourth-place finish at the Gold Cup, Klinsmann said he wants to limit the tinkering ahead of the Mexico match. Seventeen players who were part of the Gold Cup roster have been called in, and the coach said over the weekend that the upcoming friendlies “are not about developing things for the future.” They’re about “competing for spots—competing for the Rose Bowl.”
But if Johnson (calf) and Beasley (calf) are healthy in October, it sounds like they’ll start against El Tri. Klinsmann isn’t interested in looking at potential replacements over the next week. In fact, Greg Garza is the only bona fide outside back among the nine defenders currently in camp. The U.S. brought in Birmingham City’s Jonathan Spector on Tuesday, two days after the roster was announced. He’s played on the flank before, but is primarily a center back for his club and hasn't appeared for the U.S. since early 2012. Other potential outside backs like Geoff Cameron and DeAndre Yedlin also are preferred at other positions.
Klinsmann said when releasing his roster on Sunday, “Fabian Johnson was one of the top discoveries at the World Cup and can play both sides, but also with the fact that DaMarcus Beasley stepped aside for a year, nobody really claimed that left back spot as a 100% starter.” While Beasley was “retired,” Klinsmann tried Garza, Brek Shea and Timmy Chandler before opting for Johnson at the Gold Cup.
There is continuity, in a sense. Johnson started at right back and Beasley at left back at last year’s World Cup, and they remain Klinsmann’s first choice heading into the biggest game he’ll coach this year. Questions about why he’s been unable to find a suitable replacement for Beasley will have to wait until the Americans’ Confederations Cup fate is determined. Beasley, 33, opted to return to international duty after Klinsmann coaxed the four-time World Cup veteran back for the Gold Cup, but he was hurt during training and missed the quarterfinal win over Cuba and semifinal loss to Jamaica.
He played in the third-place game against Panama, but it was his saved spot kick that was the decisive moment as the Americans settled for fourth. As it turns out, that's not likely to be the final kick of his international career after all.